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Millennials Care About Paid Leave, and Aren’t Afraid to Take It

Millenials! The most privileged, pampered, and protected of all the generations—even they tend to view themselves as entitled. Self-absorption attends perpetual self-celebration, and this solipsistic worldview has translated into shifting demographics. Millennials are, on average, marrying and having children later than any generation before them. Alongside that, they’ve been accused of being the least loyal generation in terms of sticking it out with their first employers.

So you might expect that family-oriented benefits wouldn’t factor into Millennial’s professional considerations. Why would this generation worry about the work-life balance for their not-yet-existing families? A recent study highlighted by the Harvard Business Review noted that while millennials “strive” for work-life balance, “this tends to mean work-me balance, not work-family balance.” 

But, other research seems to point in a different direction. As a recent survey by Ernst & Young Global Generations showed, millennials “value increased flexibility and paid parental leave” more than the Boomers or Generation X. Millennials who are parents were found to be “much more likely” to take paid parental leave: 48 percent of millennials compared to 35 percent of Gen Xers and 24 percent of Boomers. If a company offers “increased flexibility and paid parental leave… [millennials] are more likely to recommend that company to others,” “[more likely to] be a more engaged and happier employee,” “less likely to quit,” “more likely to join the company,” “and [more likely] to work longer hours.” The study also found that of the three generations, millennials valued on-site or subsidized childcare most highly, too.

What’s behind this emphasis on family values? The top priority for all generations is family, according to Amy Glass, a senior facilitator at Brody Professional Development, a company that provides professional research, training, and coaching. “Everyone has this idea: family first,” Glass said. “Millennials say, ‘I need to leave at three or four today to get to my son or daughter’s soccer game or recital.’ Older generations will work longer and stay later, fly out on Sundays. It was like, ‘As the breadwinner, my blood, and sweat, and tears, and commitment to my work—I’m doing that for my family.'” So millennials may express their commitment to family differently, but rank it just as highly.

In fact, a 2011 Pew Research Center study found that when it comes to building a family, millennials prize being a good parent over having a successful marriage: “Fifty-two percent of millennials say being a good parent is ‘one of the most important things in life.’” Only 30 percent said the same about a successful marriage. This emphasis on parenthood over marriage has been increasing; the study noted that in 1997, “Forty-two percent of the members of what is known as Generation X said being a good parent was one of the most important things in life, while 35 percent said the same about having a successful marriage.” 

And while millennials may be privileging parenting over marriage, shared parenting responsibilities which paid leave helps support is also seen as the best way to ensure a successful marriage. The Pew study also noted that when “asked what kind of marriage leads to the more satisfying way of life,” 72 percent of millennials chose “the modern egalitarian model (in which the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the household and children).”

For all generations, however, that egalitarian ideal is still a long way off—particularly when it comes to paid leave. The Ernst & Young study found that close to 70 percent of women in the U.S. workforce agreed with the statement, “I feel empowered to take all of the parental leave available to me,” while only 60 percent of men agreed. More strikingly, the study found, “On average, women took 4.5 weeks of paid parental leave while men took 2.3.” Jennifer Deal, a senior researcher at the Center for Creative Leadership and author of Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground, came across this phenomenon in her research: “I heard men saying that even if they get the leave, they can’t take it because of social pressure. … For men, making the choice of prioritizing family over work affects people’s perception of their dedication.”

The upside, though, is that in advocating for more generous paid leave policies, and in taking advantage of those policies, millennials may be the first generation to have a real shot at combatting the negative implications of taking paid parental leave. In the Ernst & Young study, women were 71 percent and men were 61 percent more likely to agree with the stance “we need both women and men to take paid parental leave in order to combat the stigma associated with taking leave in society.” Indeed, Scott Behson, professor of management at Silberman College of Business, and author of the upcoming The Working Dad’s Survival Guide, said, “If you have the security to [take paid parental leave],” Behson continued, “I think you should do it. That will make it better for everyone else going forward.”